Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Burning House

It was a day like any other; the sun was rising, the cock crowed, the birds chirped, the women that wore skimpy dresses and went out late at night came home. The strips of light that gradually crawled into your room through your window pane and formed rectangles on the tiled floor had begun their crawl. Still, you lay on your bed and plotted your day: activities —where to go, what to say whence there; what to wear, what to have for breakfast: to cereal or not to cereal.
You decided to pray that morning, your relationship with God had become of thoughts and not of words, you did not like this, you wanted to be close to God but it felt as if there was a wedge of thorns between you and Him; Him and you. Whenever you began to pray, something almost always took away your attention, almost as if God was the sky and your prayers were admirations, so that the distractions were colourful birds flying; blocking your view from the sky — stopping your admiration, and at the same time, dragging your attention to themselves with their colourfulness.
You closed your eyes and began to pray; and then the noises started. They had this piercing, bustling, painful tone: somebody was in trouble, some people were in trouble. It was not the noise of just one person; it was a collective, painful shriek. It was a help-me-now-or-I-would-die type of shriek. Again, that colourful bird had come to distract you from Him in form of a group of people in pain. Almost outside your house, you smelt smoke, deep smoke of something burning, something big. When you got outside, you saw smoke, not the gray, lazy kind of smoke that one sees when a small fire is extinguished the one that has the colour of the sky on some days, but the black type, the thick black type that spells doom.
It was a house, your neighbours’ house. It had almost been totally engulfed by fire, the duplex that looked so big last night, was looking so bright this morning, so fiery bright. Yellow flame rising up fast, burning, business-like, it seemed as if it had not come to play games with anybody, as if it had no time for such ridiculousness. It was spreading, razing everything in its path; concrete being reduced to ash; pieces of paper being reduced to memories, to thoughts. You could not think fast enough of what a good response was; you were stuck. Should you think about the burning house or the people inside the burning house? People! The family that lived in the house: a man, his wife and their two children. The noises you heard when you had just begun to pray, the shriek! The help-me-now-or-I-would-die shriek. It had come, you suddenly realized, from the burning house. They were people in this burning house. You ran towards the house with a speed that you had never run with since you became you. You entered the compound and found that people had already been gathered — men wearing white singlet and sport shorts, running around the compound carrying buckets: green buckets, yellow buckets, blue buckets. Some others were holding up hoses and watching water from it extinguish small amounts of fire at a time, the fire seemed too large for what a few hoses and some buckets could quench – those were like snails trying to run a dash. But still, they tried. Best for a snail to try and run a dash than for the dash to be left untried. You joined. You found a bucket: a black bucket and scurried like the rest of the men to the nearest tap in the large compound. You could not stop thinking, however, of the shriek. Everybody there knew that there were people in the house but nobody was talking about it, almost as if they were scared to admit that people had been charred, that a family had been burnt to death in their house. It was a scary thought, so it was left un-thought — for sanity’s sake.

Before long a siren began to wail indistinct, the people whose job it was to quench fires, who extinguished fires for a living were finally on their way. When they arrived everyone eased out and watched the firefighters do their job. They did. Thirty minutes passed and the raze finally bowed to the pressure of the water that faced it, the fire was extinguished and the firefighters came out of the compound – each wearing a version of a long face. The crowd gathered around the firefighters, the crowd said nothing, but their faces asked everything.
The family, all four of them — the man, his wife and their two children died in the fire, burnt in the fire, were razed to solid black matter — black ash. Your heart broke as you walked back home. No colourful bird will distract you from praying anymore, and today, you won’t just pray, you would cry because you may be next.

Remembering Our Girls

When a child cries, he cries for a particular reason: it could be that he has dampened his pant with urine, or that he is hungry; and that child never stops crying until his needs are met: when his damp pant is changed or when he has been breastfed. Silence should only come after victory. If there is a deafening uproar, it should never stop until its aims have been achieved.
We heard a deafening uproar when the world knew about the Chibok abductions for the first time. We read about it on the pages of newspapers, we watched grown women cry on our TV screens. We were hurt by their tears of longing to see their daughters again; by their tears of hope and pain mixed in equal proportions, so that one could not outweigh the other.
We witnessed the pain and we shouted together in that single loud voice that only the united can muster. We kept the security agents on their toes with our social media hashtags and real life campaigns on tarred streets. They heard us, they were hearing us, but then, silence followed.  We became quiet because our voices became stifled by the threat of impossibility, the collective loudness of our shouts slowly dissolved into the quietness of hope and then the silence of capitulation.
Our hashtags and rallies, our loud voices of anger and annoyance were muffled into thoughts, and then after-thoughts, we no longer talked about the girls, we thought about them and we hoped. Perhaps, gravely, at this moment, our voices have died; and perhaps, even more gravely those thoughts are disappearing into nothingness and our girls are no longer our girls, but the girls of their parents.
Maybe we need to be reminded that still, as strange as it may sound, teenage girls are missing. Maybe we need to remind ourselves that they were abducted from their schools; their schools where they enrolled because they wanted a better life for themselves. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that any of these girls could be our daughters, our nieces, our sisters. Maybe we need to remind ourselves that these girls that were abducted have parents and siblings that pray everyday and cry every night because one of them have been taken, stolen in broad day light by evil men who can do whatever they want. Maybe we need to start imagining again, to start wondering again what fate could have befallen them; the lust, the gore.
Our rage should never be diluted until our girls are brought back. We should not sit and watch things unfold. Let us be angry again at the monsters that took them, let us once again press our government and make sure they do not lag because of our silence. Let us find our voices once again and shout that united shout, let us revive this dying uproar of ours. Let us not forget our girls because they indeed still are our girls!

First published on omojuwa